Ballroom dance is an art that calls for hours of practice and intense attention to details. For BYU Ballroom Dance Company (BDC), every element of their performance—every step, gesture, pose, and costume—is meticulously thought out and rehearsed. This year, first-year directors Curt and Sharon Holman guided the team of dancers to the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival in Blackpool, England.
The Blackpool Dance Festival is a weeklong event held in the Empress Ballroom at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It is one of the most respected competitions in the ballroom world, hosting talented dancers from around the globe. Every three years since 1971, BDC has competed in the Ballroom Formation and Latin Formation Championships, and the company has won first or second place each time. “Blackpool championships are prestigious, and all the judges are longtime professionals. So it was a lot of pressure, but that made it so much better,” says BYU dancer
The month prior to the competition, the group increased their practice from eight hours per week to three to four hours a day. “Everything moves so fast, and we have to make sure our heads are facing the right way and that our eyes are looking in the right direction,” says dancer Chanel Kostich. Once they arrived in England, they practiced morning and night. Kostich explains, “We would wake up at 5:30 a.m. so that we were the first ones to get the floor to practice.”
The hard work paid off when the team was crowned champions in both the ballroom formation and Latin formation categories. “They took to the floor and danced a flawless, artistic, and energy-packed routine,” says Curt Holman. “Later a judge remarked that they were simply brilliant and did not disappoint.” Once the group was announced as winners, the emcee of the event, Marcus Hilton, said, “Now that is what formation dancing is all about!”
For the Latin Formation Championship, Ballroom Dance Company competed against seven groups, including their biggest competitor, Beijing Dance Academy from China. “The semifinal was a bit tricky, so before the final, [Curt Holman] had us get together, and then he just left us to talk,” says Ralph. “It was a very bonding experience with the team as we got to feel happy and grateful for where we were. We encouraged each other, so when we were out there we performed at our best.”
With their success at Blackpool still fresh on their minds, the company continued their tour throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. During the tour, the team got involved in several service and community outreach events. Of the group’s 12 performances, 11 raised profits to donate to local hospitals and health organizations. In addition to donating to hospitals, BDC visited, danced, and interacted with the patients of Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and Velindre Cancer Centre. “It was a touching experience to dance [for the children],” says Ralph.
Apart from performing and reaching out to the community, BDC visited several of the iconic sights and historical landmarks of Great Britain, including the National Wallace Monument, Edinburgh Castle, Hadrian’s Wall, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. “The sites we were able to see in Great Britain were incredible!” says artist manager Justin Smith. “We [saw] the Roman Baths, which date back to AD 70, and Stonehenge, which goes back even further—to 2500 BC. This is thousands of years of history, and still today we were able to experience them.”
For the BYU students, one of the most memorable parts of the tour was interacting with the British people, especially the host families that the group stayed with. “We got to learn their culture and what they enjoyed,” says Kostich. Group members also interacted with the leaders of the community and greeted diplomats and dignitaries at VIP receptions before performances. In London, they met Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne and officials from the Houses of Parliament. The baroness asked if Ballroom Dance Company could visit the school she supports for handicapped children in Poland—and that wasn’t the only request the company received to perform again. Councillor Bill Moir, deputy mayor of Durham, England, said, “At the conclusion of the performance, I was compelled to leap to my feet! A must-see! . . . When will you return?”
Before their return to Great Britain in three years’ time, Ballroom Dance Company will take its show, Swing ’n’ Sway, to Argentina and Chile in the summer of 2017.